Without a doubt, one of the most crucial elements of maintaining a healthy diet and physique is planning out meals each week. Meal planning reduces food costs and meal prepping reduces the amount of time needed to cook healthy food at home. With a little planning, it is easy to eat healthy without breaking the bank or slaving away in the kitchen for hours each day. Over the years I have fine-tuned this process for maximum efficiency and I hope that you can take away some pointers to make weekly meal planning work for you.
The first step to weekly meal planning is figuring out what recipes you will cook and what you will eat for each meal. It sounds daunting at first but with a bit of practice, you can get your weekly meal planning and prepping complete in just a few hours each week.
My local grocery stores (Aldi, Lucky’s, and Publix – here in Central Florida) release their weekly sales circulars on Wednesday. Each Wednesday morning, I take a few minutes to go through the sale circulars and scope out what is on sale. I like to buy meats, frozen foods, and pantry goods when they are on sale and stockpile so I am always purchasing at the lowest possible price. I also like to buy fruits and vegetables that are in season to ensure they are fresh and the prices are low. I’ll make a list of what’s on sale and any recipe ideas that come to mind based on the weekly sale circular.
Next, I check my fridge, freezer, deep freezer, and pantry to see what I have on hand that needs to be rotated out to be used up before the expiration date and also what exotic or unusual ingredients I have left-over from previous recipes. I make a list of ingredients that I have and would like to use up and then I start thinking of recipes to make for the upcoming week.
Each week, I’ll cook up a huge batch of meat, several large side dishes, and a soup or stew. Also, anytime I cook a meal I always make at least a double batch with the intention of eating the extra portions later. I like to choose one new recipe each week (see my new recipe challenge) and have a rotation of healthy and delicious meals that can be thrown together in 30 minutes or less.
Once I have my recipes picked out, the next step is to make a grocery list (or three, depending on which grocery stores have the best prices). I have the grocery store layouts memorized, so I like to re-write the grocery list to match up with my route through the store. This helps to make sure I get everything I need without back-tracking and am less likely to put a bunch of impulse items in my shopping cart.
On grocery shopping day, I intentionally leave my husband at home. He has a tendency to side-track me with his handsomeness and sneak junk food into the cart. I am on a mission and like to stick to the list as much as possible. However, I will make an exception to my shopping list if I find something new that is healthy and reasonably priced. We like to try new things and it is nice to have some fancy new ingredients in the pantry for future meal planning adventures. My grocery shopping trips are quick, efficient, and I’m usually home within an hour or two.
On meal prepping day, I read through all the recipes again to make sure I have all the necessary ingredients and plan out a timeline for the meal prepping session. I generally make a huge batch on something for dinner that evening and then portion the leftovers into glass pyrex containers to put into the fridge and/or freezer. I love to cook and can easily spend an entire Sunday afternoon cooking recipe after recipe and then packaging up the resulting yummy meals to eat later.
The trick is to always make more food than you can eat in one meal and then package it up to eat later. For example, when I make an enormous pot of chili, we’ll eat a portion for dinner that evening, the rest will be portioned into glass containers and put into the freezer. When we’re ready to eat the chili, I’ll put the containers into the fridge the day before to thaw out. New meals are added to the back of the freezer, so the older meals are easily visible in the front.
It is my goal to prepare every single meal that my husband and I eat. Breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner, and *occasionally* dessert. With a solid meal plan, it is possible to eat healthily and keep your food costs low.
Do you meal prep? If so, what tips or tricks do you recommend?